How effective is the AstraZeneca vaccine against the Indian Covid variant?

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The B.1.617.2 variant first detected in India has contributed to several Covid cases in England in recent weeks. In some parts of the country, experts think the new variant has become the dominant strain. More than 3,200 cases of the variant have been reported in England as of May 20, and concern about the prevalence of the variant in some parts of England has prompted the Government to introduce additional restrictions in some areas.

People in affected areas, which includes places such as Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Bolton and Hounslow, are being urged to carry out a Covid test twice a week.

The Government has also increased its vaccination efforts in affected regions, with people urged to take up the offer of a vaccine as soon as they are eligible.

Following the news local restrictions are being applied in areas affected by the variant, a Government spokesman explained: “Working with local authorities, we took swift and decisive action to slow the spread of the B1.617.2 (India) variant by introducing surge testing and bringing forward second doses of the vaccine for the most vulnerable.

“We provided additional guidance for those living in affected areas when we became aware of the risk posed by the variant, to encourage people to take an extra cautious approach when meeting others or travelling.”

How effective is the AstraZeneca vaccine against the Indian Covid variant?

In recent weeks, there has been concern that the Indian Covid variant could derail the Government’s proposed Step 4 date for easing lockdown on June 21.

But this month, promising results from a Public Health England (PHE) study found the AstraZeneca vaccine to effective against the B.1.617.2 variant.

The analysis included data for all age groups from April 5 and it included 1,054 people confirmed as having the B.1.617.2 variant.

Two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were found to be 60 percent effective against symptomatic disease from the B.1.617.2 variant.

For comparison, two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were found to be 66 percent effective against the B.1.1.7 variant, otherwise known as the Kent variant, which is the dominant UK Covid strain.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was also found to be 88 percent effective against symptomatic disease from the Indian variant two weeks after a second vaccine dose had been administered.

The PHE study also showed the vaccines had an effective response against the variant in people who had only one vaccine dose.

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However, the jump in effectiveness from one dose to two highlighted the need for people to have two vaccine doses for maximum protection.

Both the AstraZeneca and the Pfizer vaccine were found to be 33 percent effective against symptomatic disease from the B.1.617.2 variant three weeks after an initial first dose had been administered, according to the PHE study.

While both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have shown positive results against symptomatic disease, the Government also expects the vaccines will provide even higher protection against hospitalisation and death due to the variant.

Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at PHE, said: “This study provides reassurance that two doses of either vaccine offer high levels of protection against symptomatic disease from the B.1.617.2 variant.

“We expect the vaccines to be even more effective at preventing hospitalisation and death, so it is vital to get both doses to gain maximum protection against all existing and emerging variants.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock described the results of the PHE study as “groundbreaking”, while Minister for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi said the data was “astounding”.

Who is eligible for a Covid vaccine now?

The UK vaccination programme has continued at pace for several months now and the NHS has recently extended vaccine appointments to people over the age of 32.

Other groups remain eligible as well, including people considered clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable.

People with learning disabilities, carers and frontline health and social care workers are also eligible for vaccination.

Vaccine appointments can be booked via the NHS’s dedicated vaccine booking service.

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